A few weeks ago I was teaching a workshop about volunteering. One of the leaders attending the workshop said, "It seems like volunteering is becoming a front door to the church. Not too long ago, people would attend your church for awhile--and then after they were comfortable, they might volunteer for something. But recently, people are volunteering on some of our teams before they ever attend a service." It is true. In today's culture, volunteering is sexy. It is "in." It is the thing to do. When I was growing up, we had the Jerry Lewis Telethon every year that highlighted helping others, but that was about it. But now, it's totally different. Last night I watching the premiere episode of Secret Millionaire--a show where a wealthy individual will go undercover in an under-privileged area--and they will look for volunteers to invest in who are making a difference. Other shows have been around longer--like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Celebrities like Bono and George Clooney are using their influence to encourage involvement. Even Hollywood as an industry is trying to make a concerted effort to raise the value of volunteering.
This is awesome. And this is God. I don't care if the leaders of these organizations are followers of Jesus or not. Wherever you find people helping others who need it--that is a God quality. There is no goodness in anyone's heart apart from God. So celebrate it. Call it out. Enter into it. Partner with it.
But answer this, why is it that so often the church is not leading in these efforts? And in fact, sometimes the church is actually in the way? If I want to volunteer on a Habitat project or serve soup at the downtown homeless shelter, I can jump in right away. But if I try to volunteer at most churches...there are a bunch of hoops to jump. Are you a regular attendee? Did you take the membership class? Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Savior? How long have you attended the church?
Why does any of that matter for volunteer opportunities that are making a difference in our community? These are amazing opportunities to show the community that we actually care for them, to create natural ways for people to develop friendships with followers of Jesus, and to have life-changing impact on people.
Let's do more of this, not less. Let's make it easy for anyone from anywhere to join us in doing good. And let's celebrate and partner with those are are getting it done.